Doves - The Universal Want
From the moment I heard Carousels, I couldn't wait for this album to be released, and it's been on heavy rotate ever since!
Admittedly, I wasn't a huge fan of Doves until i discovered "The Cedar Room" from 2000's Lost Souls. This coincided with the release of lead singles "Carousels" and "Prisoners". Doves have always been a band my Dad has championed, yet i'd never really given them a listen (you should always trust your Dad). Fast forward three months, countless spins on the turntable and lockdown part deux, we have tickets to see them in April next year.
10 years since their last album was released, The Universal Want was well worth the wait, but don't leave it another 10 years ey lads!
Shamir - Shamir
Pretty much everything that I’ve encountered this year has left me reeling like a freshly-struck bowling pin and incapable of much in the way of achievement, aside from finally finishing all 7 seasons of Parks and Recreation. While this was supposed to be the year when we all made the most of lockdown by producing the great works of art we’d never had the time to work on before, most of us failed at this. Shamir Bailey though presented us with two albums, five singles and a productivity-related inferiority complex.
The second of these albums, titled Shamir and released this past October, is truly remarkable, comfortably skipping across genres without once losing its identity. This is in part because no one sings like Shamir, who possesses a startling countertenor voice, somewhere between David McAlmont and without insult or disrespect, Mickey Mouse. You might know it from his 2014 dance-pop hit “On The Regular”, but little of this album bears any relation to that. Shamir runs through alt-rock, country, folk, synthpop and a whole toybox of sounds before reaching the plaintive orchestral howl of the closing “In This Hole”, which leaves the listener not quite understanding what they’ve just heard. This is an excellent end point for any album and why, after that first play, I immediately listened to it all over again and again and again.
I’ve now heard the insistent rhythm of the standout opening track, “On My Own”, so many times that it’s permanently with me at this point, like a replacement heartbeat. My feet absently tap to it. I inexpertly beatbox it under my breath while doing the washing up. And now I just want more, which is fine, as I’m sure Shamir will release another three albums and a brace of Bandcamp singles by Easter, leaving me feeling a little ashamed about my own lack of drive, but ultimately, happy.
Taylor Swift - Folklore
I’m rarely first to the party when it comes to new releases but because I listened to Taylor Swift’s Lover on repeat for much of this year, Spotify kindly notified me of Folklore’s release in July. I instantly fell in love with it and it has remained in rotation ever since (I say rotation, but really I mean I have either been listening to Folklore, or I have been listening to all of Taylor Swift’s albums on shuffle).
I have always been a pop fan regardless of whether at that time I was mainly listening to country music, rap music or dance music. Folklore is a beautiful hybrid of many of the things I love from an album – some folk (as the title suggests), some beautiful story-telling, and some very singable lyrics, it felt like just what this year needed - a bit of romantic escape. It feels a bit more mature than 1989, a bit less frivolous than Lover, and is a wonderful compliment to both.
One stand out track for me is The Last Great American Dynasty, a tale of Rebekah, her marriage to Bill and their purchase of ‘Holiday House’. I don’t know if this is a true story (I don’t want to spoil the magic by looking into it) but I quite like the sound of Rebekah who filled the pool with champagne, and swam with the big names, and blew through (presumably Bill’s) money. I imagine a 50s cast, be-decked in madmen-esque dresses and suits, cigarette holders in hand.
I’d be amiss to not mention the feminist theme of this album (yeah I know, sorry), I love The Man from Lover, it’s confident and strong and sends a big ‘fuck you’ to the Man. That is so different to Mad Woman which smacks of a woman being gaslighted and shamed by the man who cheated on her. ‘When you say I seem angry I get more angry’, ah, the never ending circle. Taylor’s personal life has been widely reported on and I think she is a young woman with a lot to say that is worth listening to. I think there is something in her back catalogue for everyone (ok, maybe not EVERYONE), and Folklore for me has been the perfect soundtrack to a year that has been filled with highs and lows.
The Blinders - Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath
The Blinders are fast becoming one of the hottest and freshest young bands in the UK. Their debut album, ‘Colombia’, was an onslaught of compelling psych rock that assaulted and deranged the senses. The follow on, ‘Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath’ is just as merciless and hypnotic.
From tenacious opener, ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ to the out of character ballad at the end, ‘In This Decade’, the album is much like its predecessor - ruthless in its delivery and packing a hefty punch. Wailing profound lyrics about the darker realities of life work in tandem with body shuddering guitar strums and ferocious tribal-like drums, creating the archetypal menacing and ethereal Blinders sound fans have become accustomed to over the past few years.
The electrifying, ‘Forty Days and Forty Nights’ and ‘Mule Track’ are stand out tracks from the high-octane blood pumping tracks. ‘From Nothing to Abundance’ is sinister yet cool concoction, rumbling on in a trance-like manner that provokes unsettling thoughts. But it’s in the slower, eerier numbers where The Blinders really penetrate your psyche. ‘I Want Gold’ is one such track. It’s Tarantino-esque, conjuring up images of a Wild Western stand-off in a tense moment of a dark and twisted film where the guitar rips and writhes its way through your soul.
My favourite track of the lot, ‘Black Glass’, follows the same haunting style and is simply epic - very Doors like. Comparisons with the famed sixties band don’t just stop at this song. There is something reminiscent about the Doors that runs through the core of The Blinders, from the tone of the songs, to the power of the lyrics, to the antics of lead singer, Thomas Haywood. ‘Black Glass’ builds up a spine-tingling suspense before the thumping, rhythmic drumbeats and snarling guitar kicks in, hammering away till the songs explosive crescendo. It’s rock poetry at its best.
The Blinders are one of the most exciting bands since the millennium. Unnerving, pulverizing, and packed with a fire and energy that’s unleashed as a spate of intense hedonistic rage.
Travis - 10 Songs
Travis are a band that I’ve loved since I was a seventeen so, in a year when the world went crazy (and I turned forty), they were there to help me through.
10 Songs was recorded just before lockdown, and I suppose it would have been easy to just put it on hold for a year before releasing it. Instead, Fran Healy showed just how creative he can be when living on the other side of the world from his bandmates, with nothing to wear but a red boiler suit, and trying to release his songs into the world during a pandemic.
Singles were drip-fed to us in advance of the album, and these became my soundtrack to lockdown. A shiny moment of joy amongst the gloom. A Ghost, my children’s personal favourite. They watched the video on repeat, the artwork drawn by Fran himself; unable to film with the rest of the band, but able to create something beautiful when many of us felt paralysed and unable to do very much. The Only Thing, a gorgeous duet with Susanna Hoffs from The Bangles, which reminded me just how much I adored Eternal Flame when I was a kid. All Fall Down, an intimate love song, the vocal a spoken whisper at times.
By the time the album was released in October, and I could hear 10 Songs in its entirety, I was already in love with it and it’s been on constant rotation since then. Every song on the album showing just what a great songwriter Fran Healy is. Travis make me feel unashamedly happy and 2020 was a year when that was really needed.
Mariah Carey - The Rarities
One of my big hopes was that a world in lockdown would inspire a huge wave of creativity and new material. However, Mariah Carey took another road. This year being the 30th anniversary of the release of her eponymous first album, Mariah had a rummage through her extensive back catalogue and collated a huge number of previously unreleased ‘B-sides’ under the title of ‘The Rarities’ in early October. (Footnote: there are also a load of live versions of her classics on the album, if that’s your kind of thing… unpopular opinion: recorded live music really isn’t my cup of tea, nothing can beat the experience of actually hearing someone perform live).
Listening to the musical selection box of ‘The Rarities’ felt like a warm-tummy wave of nostalgia combined with a synapse-firing sensation of discovering new music. Her lead single from the album was a collaboration with Lauryn Hill, sampling her inredible ad libs from The Fugees ‘Killing Me Softly’, called ‘Save the Day’. Though the song was originally written back in 2011 (with her long serving song writing buddy Jermaine Dupri), the lyrics couldn’t have been more fitting to a 2020 world recognising and inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement… “You got a right to your own opinion, But when it comes to the world we live in, Isn't it the time that we start rebuilding?”. But for me, the greatest moment listening to ‘The Rarities’ (on shuffle of course) was hearing Mariah’s rendition of ‘Out Here On My Own’, which for the uninitiated, is from the soundtrack to the movie Fame. Irene Cara’s original was always going to be a tough one to beat, but if anyone could do it for me, it was going to be Mariah and boy, she didn’t disappoint!
Some people may have felt like releasing a B-Sides compilation is a cop-out en par with a Greatest Hits album. But let’s face it, Mariah already has her annual cash-cow with ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ keeping her well stocked in botox and fillers. For me, that makes ‘The Rarities’ an album of integrity and really, one for her ride-or-die fans. It satisfied my desire for new music whilst feeling like a warm and familiar hug from my nearest and dearest, which really was what I and everybody else really wanted this year.
Blossoms - Foolish Loving Spaces
I have chosen this album as my top 2020 listen for a number of reasons. First up, and most importantly, it’s simply full of great songs. Each track is full to the brim of melodies, harmonies and hooks. It’s got the feel of the 80s, but with a modern twist. The songs are just such a joy to listen to. Each member of the band has played a blinder, especially Charlie Salt, who may be remembered in a number of years as the bassist of our generation.
Secondly, the album release show in the Ritz in Manchester was my last gig before lockdown struck. Listening to this album takes me back to that night, to a time before masks, tiers and government briefings. Finally, my two and three year old children know each song’s lyrics inside out and we have danced most days to the videos. My three year old spotted Myles Kellock on HMV a few months ago and lost her mind! When I listen to this album in 50 years time, it’ll take me right back to those glorious moments with my kids. And what a soundtrack it will be!
Sports Team - Deep Down Happy
For me, there wasn’t any other option to pick Sports Teams’ ‘Deep Down Happy’ as my favourite album this year. This album is the perfect cure to all emotions; happiness, anger, sadness (the list goes on!). The energy levels are through the roof as the guitars frenzy over innovative bass lines and furious drums. That’s not to mention lead singer Alex Rice and his indescribable energy. His tongue-in-cheek lyrics are sung with complete swagger as the band protest normality. The first track ‘Lander’ is one of the best opening songs I’ve ever heard, as the ferocious guitars battle with the screaming vocals. For me, Sports Team have changed the game with this album and I cannot wait to see the five-piece live next year (all things going well!)The album isn’t just a hit with me though, and it’s something that my own friends adore. If we’re unsure what to do, we just stick this album on and go crazy. ‘Deep Down Happy’ will always remind me of this strange time and trying to make the best of a bad situation. It’s certainly got me through the best and the worst of the year.
Previous Eight Albums entries can be found on the Archive page.